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Notice

Supplemental Guidelines for Juvenile Registration Under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Department of Justice.

ACTION:

Notice; proposed guidelines.

SUMMARY:

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) requires registration of individuals convicted of sex offenses as adults and, in addition, registration of juveniles adjudicated delinquent for certain serious sex offenses. SORNA also provides for a reduction of justice assistance funding to eligible jurisdictions that fail to “substantially implement” SORNA's requirements, including the juvenile registration requirement, in their sex offender registration programs. These proposed guidelines provide guidance regarding the substantial implementation of the juvenile registration requirement by eligible jurisdictions. The Justice Department's Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking will examine the following factors when assessing whether a jurisdiction has substantially implemented SORNA's juvenile registration provisions: Policies and practices to prosecute as adults juveniles who commit serious sex offenses; policies and practices to register juveniles adjudicated delinquent for serious sex offenses; and other policies and practices to identify, track, monitor, or manage juveniles adjudicated delinquent for serious sex offenses who are in the community and to ensure that the records of their identities and sex offenses are available as needed for public safety purposes. By affording jurisdictions greater flexibility in their efforts to substantially implement SORNA's juvenile registration requirement, the proposed guidelines will further SORNA's public safety objectives in relation to serious juvenile sex offenders and facilitate jurisdictions' substantial implementation of all aspects of SORNA. The proposed guidelines concern only substantial implementation of SORNA's juvenile registration requirement and do not affect substantial implementation of SORNA's registration requirements for individuals convicted of sex offenses as adults.

DATES:

Written comments must be postmarked and electronic comments must be submitted on or before June 10, 2016. Comments received by mail will be considered timely if they are postmarked on or before that date. The electronic Federal Docket Management System (FDMS) will accept comments until midnight Eastern Time at the end of that day.

ADDRESSES:

To ensure proper handling of comments, please reference OAG Docket No. 151 in all electronic and written correspondence. The Department encourages the electronic submission of all comments through http://www.regulations.gov using the electronic comment form provided on that site. An electronic copy of this document is also available at the http://www.regulations.gov Web site for easy reference. Paper comments that duplicate the electronic submission are not necessary as all comments submitted to http://www.regulations.gov will be posted for public review and are part of the official docket record. Should you, however, wish to submit written comments by mail, they should be sent to Luis C.deBaca, Director, SMART Office, Office of Justice Programs, United States Department of Justice, 810 7th St. NW., Washington, DC 20531.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Luis C.deBaca, Director, Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking; Office of Justice Programs, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, (202) 514-4689.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Posting of Public Comments

Please note that all comments received are considered part of the public record and made available for public inspection online at http://www.regulations.gov. Such information includes personal identifying information (such as your name and address) voluntarily submitted by the commenter.

You are not required to submit personal identifying information in order to comment on these proposed guidelines. Nevertheless, if you want to submit personal identifying information (such as your name and address) as part of your comment, but do not want it to be posted online, you must include the phrase “PERSONAL IDENTIFYING INFORMATION” in the first paragraph of your comment. You also must locate all of the personal identifying information that you do not want posted online in the first paragraph of your comment and identify what information you want redacted.

If you want to submit confidential business information as part of your comment but do not want it to be posted online, you must include the phrase “CONFIDENTIAL BUSINESS INFORMATION” in the first paragraph of your comment. You also must prominently identify confidential business information to be redacted within the comment. If a comment has so much confidential business information that it cannot be effectively redacted, all or part of that comment may not be posted on http://www.regulations.gov.

Personal identifying information and confidential business information identified and located as set forth above will be placed in the agency's public docket file, but not posted online. If you wish to inspect the agency's public docket file in person by appointment, please see the paragraph above entitled FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT.

Background

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”), title I of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, Public Law 109-248, was enacted on July 27, 2006. SORNA (42 U.S.C. 16901 et seq.) establishes minimum national standards for sex offender registration and notification in the jurisdictions to which it applies. “Jurisdictions” in the relevant sense are the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Start Printed Page 21398the five principal U.S. territories, and federally recognized Indian tribes that satisfy certain criteria. 42 U.S.C. 16911(10).

SORNA provides a financial incentive for eligible jurisdictions to adopt its standards, by requiring a 10 percent reduction of federal justice assistance funding to an eligible jurisdiction if the Attorney General determines that the jurisdiction has failed to “substantially implement” SORNA. 42 U.S.C. 16925(a). SORNA also directs the Attorney General to issue guidelines and regulations to interpret and implement SORNA. See id. 16912(b). To this end, the Attorney General issued the National Guidelines for Sex Offender Registration and Notification (“SORNA Guidelines”), 73 FR 38030, on July 2, 2008, and the Supplemental Guidelines for Sex Offender Registration and Notification (“Supplemental Guidelines”), 76 FR 1630, on January 11, 2011. The Justice Department's Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (“SMART Office”) assists all jurisdictions in their SORNA implementation efforts and determines whether they have substantially implemented SORNA's requirements in their registration and notification programs. See 42 U.S.C. 16945; 73 FR at 38044, 38047-48; 76 FR at 1638-39.

In addition to requiring registration based on adult convictions for sex offenses, SORNA includes as covered “sex offender[s]” juveniles at least 14 years old who have been adjudicated delinquent for particularly serious sex offenses. 42 U.S.C. 16911(1), (8); see id. 16913 (setting forth registration requirements). In relation to the juvenile registration requirement, as in other contexts, the SMART Office “consider[s] on a case-by-case basis whether jurisdictions' rules or procedures that do not exactly follow the provisions of SORNA . . . `substantially' implement SORNA, assessing whether the departure from a SORNA requirement will or will not substantially disserve the objectives of the requirement.” 73 FR at 38048.

The SORNA Guidelines explained, in particular, that substantial implementation of SORNA need not include registration of juveniles adjudicated delinquent for certain lesser offenses within the scope of SORNA's juvenile registration provisions. The Guidelines stated that jurisdictions can achieve substantial implementation if they cover offenses by juveniles at least 14 years old that consist of engaging (or attempting or conspiring to engage) in a sexual act with another by force or the threat of serious violence or by rendering unconscious or involuntarily drugging the victim. Id. at 38050. This interpretation of substantial implementation addressed concerns about the potential registration of juveniles in some circumstances based on consensual sexual activity with other juveniles, which is outside the scope of the coverage required by the Guidelines. See id. at 38040-41.

The Supplemental Guidelines included a subsequent change affecting the treatment of all persons required to register on the basis of juvenile delinquency adjudications. SORNA authorizes the Attorney General to create exemptions from SORNA's requirement that information about registered sex offenders be made available to the public through Web site postings and other means. See 42 U.S.C. 16918(c)(4), 16921(b). The Supplemental Guidelines noted that the SORNA Guidelines had endeavored to facilitate jurisdictions' compliance with SORNA's registration requirement for “juveniles at least 14 years old who are adjudicated delinquent for particularly serious sex offenses,” but that “resistance by some jurisdictions to public disclosure of information about sex offenders in this class has continued to be one of the largest impediments to SORNA implementation.” 76 FR at 1636. The Attorney General accordingly exercised his exemption authority “to allow jurisdictions to exempt from public . . . disclosure information concerning sex offenders required to register on the basis of juvenile delinquency adjudications.” Id. This exemption did not change the requirement that such juveniles be registered and that information about them be transmitted or made available “to the national (non-public) databases of sex offender information, to law enforcement and supervision agencies, and to registration authorities in other jurisdictions.” Id. at 1637.

Based on additional experience with SORNA implementation, and further reflection on the practicalities and effects of juvenile registration, these proposed guidelines modify the approach the SMART Office will take in assessing whether a jurisdiction has substantially implemented SORNA's juvenile registration requirement. As explained below, the modification will enhance public safety by incentivizing a broader range of measures that may protect the public from serious juvenile sex offenders.

While most states provide for registration of some sex offenders based on juvenile delinquency adjudications, many do not or do so only on a discretionary basis. See SMART Office, SMART Summary: Prosecution, Transfer, and Registration of Serious Juvenile Sex Offenders 10-11, 24-29 (Mar. 2015) (“SMART Juvenile Summary”), www.smart.gov/​pdfs/​smartjuvenilessum.pdf. Too rigid an approach to implementation of the juvenile registration aspect of SORNA, which affects a limited subclass of sex offenders, may conflict at a practical level with the objective of implementing SORNA's more broadly applicable reforms, which affect the whole universe of convicted sex offenders. This occurs when a jurisdiction's unwillingness or inability to implement the juvenile registration requirement discourages or stymies further efforts to implement SORNA generally, because the deficit regarding juvenile registration alone precludes approval of the jurisdiction as having substantially implemented SORNA. Moreover, the juvenile registration requirement is in some respects unique in terms of its scope and rationale and the potential for furthering its objectives by other means.

First, juveniles may be subject to prosecution in either of two distinct justice systems—the juvenile justice system or the adult criminal justice system. The SORNA Guidelines provide that registration jurisdictions may substantially implement SORNA's juvenile registration requirement by registering persons at least 14 years old at the time of the offense who are adjudicated delinquent for an offense amounting to rape or its equivalent, or an attempt or conspiracy to commit such an offense. See 73 FR at 38041, 38050. Practically all states authorize or require adult prosecution for many or all such juveniles. See SMART Juvenile Summary 5-9, 16, 19-23. Where juveniles are prosecuted as adults, the resulting convictions are treated as adult convictions under SORNA, and SORNA's general provisions require the sex offender to register. See 73 FR at 38050.

Consequently, a jurisdiction may advance SORNA's public safety goals in relation to serious juvenile sex offenders not only by prescribing mandatory registration for those offenders adjudicated delinquent, but also by prosecuting such offenders in the adult criminal justice system. Consider a jurisdiction that normally subjects sex offenders in SORNA's juvenile registration category to adult prosecution and conviction, with resulting registration, but that does not have mandatory registration for the relatively few offenders in this category who are proceeded against in the juvenile justice system. With respect to most sex offenders, the jurisdiction Start Printed Page 21399protects the public through registration at least as effectively as a jurisdiction that proceeds against more offenders as juveniles and has mandatory registration based on delinquency adjudications, because all individuals convicted of qualifying sex offenses as adults are required to register. In some respects, a jurisdiction oriented towards adult prosecution of the most serious juvenile sex offenders may more effectively advance SORNA's public safety objectives, because prosecution as an adult also makes available the more substantial incarceration and supervision sanctions of the adult criminal justice system. But if mandatory juvenile registration is treated as a sine qua non of substantial SORNA implementation, that jurisdiction could not be approved as having substantially implemented SORNA.

A second feature unique to juvenile sex offenders is that SORNA requires registration only for certain juveniles who are adjudicated delinquent for particularly serious sex offenses—that is, sex offenses that are “comparable to or more serious than aggravated sexual abuse” (or attempt or conspiracy to commit such offenses). 42 U.S.C. 16911(8). Jurisdictions that allow for discretionary registration of juveniles adjudicated delinquent for sex offenses may in practice capture many of the juveniles in SORNA's juvenile registration category—especially those who pose the most danger to others—in their registration schemes. Rather than simply rejecting a jurisdiction's approach to juvenile registration for having a discretionary aspect, examination of these registration programs as applied would allow the SMART Office to determine whether, when considered as part of a jurisdiction's overall registration scheme, this variance does or does not substantially disserve SORNA's purposes.

Considering discretionary juvenile registration might appear to be inconsistent with the response to public comments accompanying the issuance of the SORNA Guidelines, which stated that registration as “a matter of judicial discretion” is insufficient to substantially implement SORNA's juvenile registration requirement. 73 FR at 38038. However, that response addressed comments urging that discretionary registration should in itself be considered sufficient implementation of SORNA's requirements, “ignor[ing] what SORNA provides on this issue, and instead do[ing] something different that the commenters believe to be better policy.” Id. That is not the approach of these proposed guidelines, which contemplate that the SMART Office will consider the full range of pertinent measures a jurisdiction may adopt, and do not assume that simply replacing a mandatory registration requirement with a discretionary one achieves in substance what SORNA requires. For example, consider a jurisdiction that (i) largely requires registration by sex offenders in SORNA's juvenile registration class because those offenders are likely to be prosecuted and convicted in the adult criminal justice system, (ii) allows registration on a discretionary basis for sex offenders who remain in the juvenile justice system, and (iii) provides other effective post-release monitoring and identification measures for juvenile sex offenders as discussed below. In assessing whether such a jurisdiction has substantially implemented SORNA's juvenile registration requirement, it is appropriate to take into account the jurisdiction's discretionary registration of adjudicated delinquents along with other factors, and doing so does not conflict with the prior rejection of approaches that “ignore[ ] what SORNA provides.” Id.

A third feature specific to the juvenile context is the prevalence of juvenile confidentiality provisions, which can limit the availability of information about the identities, locations, and criminal histories of juvenile sex offenders. Potential consequences of these confidentiality provisions include that (i) law enforcement agencies may lack information about certain sex offenders in their areas that could, if known, assist in solving new sex crimes and apprehending the perpetrators; (ii) sex offenders may be less effectively discouraged from engaging in further criminal conduct, because the authorities do not know their identities, locations, and criminal histories; and (iii) offenders' histories of sexual violence or child molestation, which might disqualify them from positions giving them control over or access to potential victims (such as childcare positions), may not be disclosed through background check systems or affirmative notice to appropriate authorities. These confidentiality provisions accordingly may negatively affect the achievement of SORNA's public safety objectives. See 73 FR at 38044-45, 38060-61. Congress's decision to subject certain juvenile sex offenders to SORNA's registration requirements was an effort to overcome risks to the public posed by juvenile confidentiality requirements that Congress considered too broad. See H.R. Rep. No. 109-218, pt. 1, at 25 (2005).

A jurisdiction that does not implement juvenile registration in the exact manner specified in SORNA's juvenile registration provisions may nevertheless adopt other measures that address the underlying concerns as part of its substantial implementation of SORNA. For example, a jurisdiction may have means of monitoring or tracking juvenile sex offenders following release, such as extended post-release supervision regimes or address-reporting requirements, that may not incorporate all aspects of SORNA's registration system, but that may nevertheless help law enforcement agencies to identify the sex offenders in their areas and the perpetrators of new sex offenses. Confidentiality requirements for juvenile records may be appropriately defined and limited so as not to conceal risks to potential victims from persons who committed serious sex offenses as juveniles.

In sum, a number of factors are reasonably considered in ascertaining whether a jurisdiction has substantially implemented SORNA's juvenile registration provisions, which have not been articulated or given weight to the same extent under previous guidelines. Accordingly, in these proposed guidelines, the Attorney General expands the matters that the SMART Office will consider in determining substantial implementation of this SORNA requirement. This expansion recognizes that jurisdictions may adopt myriad robust measures to protect the public from serious juvenile sex offenders, and will help to promote and facilitate jurisdictions' substantial implementation of all aspects of SORNA.

Proposed Supplemental Guidelines for Juvenile Registration Under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act

If a jurisdiction does not register juveniles at least 14 years old who are adjudicated delinquent for particularly serious sex offenses in exact conformity with SORNA's provisions—for example, because the jurisdiction uses a discretionary process for determining such registration—the SMART Office will examine the following factors when assessing whether the jurisdiction has nevertheless substantially implemented SORNA's juvenile registration requirements: (i) Policies and practices to prosecute as adults juveniles who commit serious sex offenses; (ii) policies and practices to register juveniles adjudicated delinquent for serious sex offenses; and (iii) other policies and Start Printed Page 21400practices to identify, track, monitor, or manage juveniles adjudicated delinquent for serious sex offenses who are in the community and to ensure that the records of their identities and sex offenses are available as needed for public safety purposes. Consistent with the requirements for other aspects of a jurisdiction's program that do not exactly follow SORNA's provisions, a jurisdiction that seeks to rely on these factors in establishing substantial implementation must identify any departure from SORNA's requirements in its submission to the SMART Office and “explain why the departure from the SORNA requirements should not be considered a failure to substantially implement SORNA.” 73 FR at 38048. The SMART Office will determine that a jurisdiction relying on these factors has substantially implemented SORNA's juvenile registration requirement only if it concludes that these factors, in conjunction with that jurisdiction's other policies and practices, have resulted or will result in the registration, identification, tracking, monitoring, or management of juveniles who commit serious sex offenses, and in the availability of the identities and sex offenses of such juveniles as needed for public safety purposes, in a manner that does not substantially disserve SORNA's objectives.

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Dated: March 14, 2016.

Loretta E. Lynch,

Attorney General.

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[FR Doc. 2016-08249 Filed 4-8-16; 8:45 am]

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